Nuclear Generation Capacities Will Grow and Supply of Uranium will Decrease. Nuclear Fuel Report Projection

Australia chooses small modular reactors (SMR) to be introduced due to the transition to decarbonization. Three most likely projects are under consideration: NuScale, BWRX-300 GE-Hitachi and Terrestrial Energy’s Integral Molten Salt Reactor modules.

Production nuclear capacities are expected to grow by 2.6% annually reaching 615 GWe by 2040. This is according to the Reference Scenario of the Nuclear Fuel Report: Global Scenarios for Demand and Supply Availability 2021-2040 presented on 8 September at the World Nuclear Association Annual Symposium 2021.

The proprietary model used by World Nuclear Association to prepare projections for fuel requirements has been thoroughly revised for this edition, with a reassessment of the various factors affecting nuclear fuel demand, such as thermal efficiency parameters, enrichment levels and fuel burn-ups.

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Nuclear power currently generates about 10% of the world’s electricity. It is expected to play an increasingly important role in future for reasons including its near-zero emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants, its reliable and secure nature. In addition, its ability to produce near zero-carbon heat could help to decarbonise many hard-to-abate sectors of the economy.

As of mid-2021, global nuclear capacity was around 394 GWe (from 442 units), and about 60 GWe (57 units) was under construction. In the Reference Scenario, nuclear capacity is expected to grow by 2.6% annually, reaching 439 GWe by 2030 and 615 GWe by 2040. The Upper Scenario sees growth to 521 GWe in 2030 and 839 GWe in 2040. Even under the Lower Scenario, a steady increase in capacity projections is seen over the entire reporting period.

World reactor demand for uranium estimated at about 62,500 tonnes of uranium (tU) in 2021 increases to 79,400 tU in 2030 and 112,300 tU in 2040 in the Reference Scenario; however, world uranium production dropped considerably from 63,207 (tU) in 2016 to 47,731 tU in 2020.

Only 74% of 2020’s reactor requirements were covered by uranium mines.

“The currently depressed uranium market has caused not only a sharp decrease in uranium exploration activities (by 77% from USD 2.12 billion in 2014 to nearly USD 483 million in 2018) but also the curtailment of uranium production at existing mines, with more than 20,500 tonnes of annual production being idled,” the report notes. “Uranium production volumes at existing mines are projected to remain fairly stable until the late 2020s, then decreasing by more than half from 2030 to 2040.”

Secondary supplies of uranium are projected to play a gradually diminishing role in the world market, and while commercial inventories will, in the near term, help in bridging the gap between supply and demand, the market remains undersupplied, the report finds. In the long term, the industry needs at least to double its development of new projects by 2040, it says. “There are more than adequate project extensions, uranium resources and other projects expected to accomplish this need, but it is essential for the market to send the signals needed to launch the development of these projects,” it notes.

“Intense development of new projects will be needed in the current decade to avoid potential supply disruptions. A number of projects at very advanced stages of development are waiting for an improved supply-demand market situation in order to commence uranium production,” the report says.

Existing enrichment capacity is sufficient to meet reactor requirements. Additional capacity might be needed in the second half of the next decade under the Reference Scenario – and in the current decade under the Upper Scenario – but the modular nature of centrifuge technology and the construction times for nuclear power reactors mean that expansion of enrichment capacity can take place in a timely way, and supply challenges are not expected, the report finds.

Nuclear Fuel Report: Global Scenarios for Demand and Supply Availability 2021-2040 is the latest in a series of reports published at roughly two-yearly intervals since 1975. Drafted with input from over 80 experts from across the global nuclear industry co-chaired by Olexandr Boytsov of Tenex (Russian name is Tekhsabexport, Rosatom subdivision) and James Nevling of Exelon Generation American Energy Company, the report uses publicly available information gathered from organizations active in the nuclear fuel cycle to produce projections for nuclear capacity and uranium production. Its three scenarios – designated Reference, Upper and Lower – cover a range of possibilities for nuclear power to 2040.

World Nuclear News